The 2021 Cadillac Escalade has arrived in high style in Los Angeles during Oscars week. With no January Detroit Auto Show, there’s no better place for the next generation of Cadillac’s iconic luxury SUV to be revealed than star-studded L.A. We got to spend some time in and around the Escalade a couple weeks ago, and now we can finally tell you all about it.
As expected, the 2021 Escalade is following in the footsteps of all the other full-size GM SUVs by going with an independent rear suspension setup. Just like the Tahoe and Yukon, Cadillac is also making the next-gen magnetic shocks and new air suspension optional equipment. Engineers told us that there’s hardly any difference underneath the Escalade versus its platform stablemates, and our early impressions of the ride suggest that’s perfectly fine. Powering the new Escalade is GM’s trusty 6.2-liter V8 or the 3.0-liter turbo-diesel inline-six — both are paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission.
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We’re not surprised to see the oil-burner being offered as an option with the Escalade after it’s been tucked under the hood of the Tahoe and Yukon, but it is a significant addition to the Escalade lineup. GM has never fit a diesel engine to an Escalade before, but engineers tell us that this motor is refined enough for an Escalade buyer. We were surprised by its smoothness in the Silverado, and we’ll wager it’s even more discrete in the luxury SUV. The lovely 4.2-liter twin-turbo V8 Blackwing engine was never mentioned in Cadillac’s presentation to us. We asked, but there’s no news to be had on the Blackwing front, as Cadillac shrugged us off.
Arguably, the most important aspect of the new Escalade is its interior. When the redesigned Lincoln Navigator came out, it made the aging Escalade look like a boring dinosaur. Cadillac knew this interior had to be extraordinary to compete, and it’s taken an interesting approach.
Do you recall the Cadillac Escala concept? If so, that’s exactly what Cadillac has done with the Escalade’s interior. The tri-screen layout of the Escala’s concept dash has been translated into a final production design, and it looks spectacular in person. The main infotainment screen comes in at 16.9 inches; the digital instrument cluster is 14.2 inches, and the third screen off to the left of the cluster measures 7.2 inches. The screens themselves are unique and special in the automotive industry — Cadillac is using curved OLED displays. We’ve seen this kind of tech implemented in TVs, phones and other devices, but never for a car’s infotainment system before. Our first impressions: The screens are gorgeous, and the tech is more than just a gimmick.
As for the rest of the interior, it’s solid but not mind blowing. Only the carpeting and headliner are shared with the other GM full-size SUVs. The rest is all Cadillac. Instead of the push-button shifters on the Tahoe and Yukon, the Escalade features a joystick-style gear selector reminiscent of other Cadillacs. GM also made it clear that it thinks physical buttons are extremely important, making hard controls for the climate controls span horizontally across the dash. There are a number of leather colors, quilting and perforations you can choose from, but our favorite is one called “Gideon Whisper Beige” that features woven fabric integrated with leather throughout. It reminds us of Volvo’s fabrics used on its interiors, and it both looks and feels luxurious.
The sound system is another area that Cadillac was eager to brag about to us. It’s the first time that AKG has engineered an automotive audio system, and it doesn’t intend to disappoint. The base setup is a 19-speaker system, but an optional 36-speaker(!) system named “Studio Reference” is the most exciting. As one would expect, there are speakers anywhere that Cadillac could stick them. We weren’t able to sample it at full volume yet, but we expect this system to rival audio systems in cars double or triple its price. One feature we already found rather novel was the ability for the driver and passenger to have different sound zones, allowing the passenger to sleep in quietness while the driver jams away to tunes. We’re not sure how isolated Cadillac has been able to make it, but the idea sounds pretty great to us.
As we mentioned last week in Cadillac's next-gen Super Cruise announcement, the Escalade will offer GM's semi-autonomous tech, too. This will be the first time that Super Cruise is in an Escalade, and we're happy to finally see it. Cadillac is also making it easier to trailer with the Escalade, giving drivers nine different camera views to monitor. Other neat tech worth mentioning is the eLSD that comes as standard equipment on some models. It allows for infinitely variable distribution of torque to either wheel and can also lock torque across the axle. The independent rear suspension has done the same thing for rear cargo space and rear legroom as it did for the Tahoe and Yukon. That means an extra 10.4 inches of rear legroom in the third row and an additional 10.3 cu-ft more cargo space behind that third row.
The specific trim you choose dictates what the exterior styling will look like. Similar to other new Cadillacs, the trims consist of: Luxury, Premium Luxury and Sport. However, Cadillac has thrown a curveball in there just for the Escalade. Now, there’s a Platinum Luxury and a Platinum Sport trim to reside at the top of the hierarchy. The Sport trims are the most distinctive of the bunch. All the fancy Cadillac chrome has been discarded in favor of black painted trim, giving the Escalade a much more sinister look. The Luxury and Premium Luxury feature grilles similar to those trims on the XT6 and other new Cadillacs, but the Platinum Luxury is much more traditional. It has a cross-bar grille design that most resembles that of the previous generation Escalade, giving traditionalists something to be excited about. The variety is great, and it only further cements Cadillac’s strategy of offering folks multiple looks depending on the trim level.
Timing-wise, the 2021 Escalade is said to go on sale in late 2020.